Bipartisan Senate bill aims to ease development on public lands 

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 22, 2015

A bipartisan quartet yesterday reintroduced legislation that aims to speed development of wind, solar and geothermal projects on public lands while splitting the proceeds of those activities among state, local and federal governments.

Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) offered the bill, which they said would streamline siting and permitting of renewable energy projects on public lands.

“Renewable energy is one of Nevada’s greatest assets, but it is difficult to harness our full potential when entrepreneurs are staring down an endless stream of red tape,” Heller said in a news release. “The first step towards implementing the ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy that the Silver State is capable of is streamlining the permitting process for renewable energy production on public lands. The balanced legislation we have introduced will help the United States create jobs, progress towards energy independence, and preserve our natural wonders.”

Among other provisions, the “Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act” directs the Interior Department and Forest Service to identify priority leasing areas and identify ways to expedite the permitting process for wind, solar and geothermal energy development.

The bill also would establish a new mechanism to divide revenues from bonus bids, royalties, rents and other fees associated with wind and solar development on public land. States and counties hosting renewable developments each would receive 25 percent of the revenues.

The remainder would go to the federal government, with 15 percent directed to reducing renewable energy permitting backlogs and 35 percent earmarked for a renewable energy resource conservation fund, which is meant to protect wildlife habitat and maintain access to public lands for outdoor recreation. Between 2030 and 2035, the division of federal resources would shift; 10 percent would be directed to permitting and 40 percent to resource conservation.

Counties’ share of revenues would be in addition to what they receive through the payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) program, which is meant to compensate for the lack of property tax receipts in regions with large swaths of untaxable federal land.

Tester, Heller and other members have introduced similar versions of the bill in the last two sessions of Congress.

This year’s version is a potential candidate for inclusion in broader, bipartisan energy legislation being assembled in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a bill expected to focus on energy supply, infrastructure, efficiency and regulatory reforms.

Among the dozens of proposals jockeying for a position in a comprehensive bill, Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and other coastal members are pushing proposals to expand revenue sharing associated with offshore energy development, primarily oil and gas drilling, but the issue has been contentious for years (E&E Daily, May 20).